After posting about the Connecticut Huskies being the best team in the country, it didn’t take very long for me to wonder whether it will be proven in the tournament. UConn lost a huge offensive weapon in Jerome Dyson when he went down with an injury last week. He wasn’t the Huskies’ best shooter, but he took very good care of the basketball and was an effective go-to guy for the most part. I still think the Huskies can do it, but I am not as confident. Now let’s look at another highly ranked team, Oklahoma, and see if they pass the test.
Oklahoma has only one loss on the season, and their best player Blake Griffin is probably the National Player of the year. Despite all the success and big victories, I don’t think the Sooners have what it takes to cut down the nets in the Final Four.
The Sooners are a great team, but that greatness is very much due to their offensive production. They are currently 4th in the country in points per possession at 1.19 ppp adjusted for all games.
To breakdown the Sooner’s offense, it all starts with the big man Blake Griffin. He is by definition a go-to scorer who uses up 31% of Oklahoma’s possessions. When he gets the ball, he is extremely efficient, making 63.6% of his 2-point attempts, while getting to the free throw line more than anyone else in the Big-12 except Byron Eaton.
While Blake Griffin scores efficiently inside, the rest of the Sooner offense also contributes to a great field goal shooting team. Freshman combo-guard Willie Warren scores effectively inside and out, hitting 59.1% of his 2’s and 37.5% of his 3’s. Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson also knock down treys for the Sooners, but it is by far the scoring inside that makes Oklahoma shoot such a high percentage. In fact, they shoot a 55.4% field goal effectiveness which is 9th in the nation. On strictly 2-point attempts, they are 5th in the nation with a 55.8%. With Blake and Taylor Griffin hurting opponents inside, Crocker and Johnson hitting treys, and Willie Warren contributing from inside and out, the Sooner offense shoots with the best of them.
The other aspect that Blake Griffin influences on offense is the Sooners’ ability to get to the free throw line. With Griffin getting so many touches inside, it is no wonder the Sooners shoot a lot of free throws. Taylor Griffin and Willie Warren, also get to the free throw line frequently. Combined, the Sooners get to the line almost as much as UConn, at .481 free throw attempts per field goals attempted.
Throw in the fact that all 5 starters take good care of the basketball, and the Sooner offense is extremely difficult to stop. An offense that doesn’t turn it over, gets to shoot on most possessions. And an offense that shoots as well as Oklahoma and rebounds its misses as much as Oklahoma is going to score a lot of points.
Why I don’t like Oklahoma is simply their defense. Something about giving up 72 points in 66 possessions at home to Colorado just doesn’t look good. In their only loss to Arkansas it was 96 points in 78 possessions. Overall, it is a defense that is 51st in the country in defensive efficiency at .933 points per possessions adjusted for all games. They kind of remind of the #1 seeded Washington Husky team of 2005, a top-5 offense with a top-60 defense. Only difference is that Husky team seemed to be disputed as a #1 seed, while this Oklahoma team hasn’t slipped up and lost enough so people are still buying them.
The Oklahoma defense isn’t necessarily full of glaring flaws, it just isn’t great and the stats don’t lie. The crux of the problem for the Sooners isn’t one particular thing. First, they don’t force turnovers in the least bit. They are 267th in the country at .189 turnovers forced per possession. Now, I said this about Michigan State, too: you don’t have to force turnovers to play great defense. However, without a turnover, a possession is likely to result in a shot attempt. Therefore, you have to then force missed shots. Oklahoma does this very well inside where the Griffin brothers roam the paint. In fact, opponents only make 41.6% of their 2-point attempts against the Sooners.
Where the Sooners are deficient in the missed shots category is behind the arc, and this is where a lot of opponents’ points are coming from. Teams are choosing to score from the outside against Oklahoma, attempting 0.351 3-point attempts per total field goals attempted and hitting 34.2% of those 3’s. This is an indication that the Sooners’ perimeter defense is lacking and opponents are taking advantage.
Despite the renowned rebounding abilities of Blake Griffin, Oklahoma’s team rebounding on the defensive end is nothing to write home about. They are allowing opponents to rebound 32.3% of their own misses which is painfully average.
What we have here is a team that isn’t performing defensively in a way that will lead to a deep run in the tourney. Not forcing turnovers leads to plenty of opportunities for shot attempts and or second chance points, and in this case it is both that are problems.